Over the past eight-months, I have had the privilege to break bread, drink tea and give talks to hundreds of aspiring entrepreneurs and edupreneurs who are looking to get into this work. Edupreneurship, as you might have guessed, is a delicate marriage between entrepreneurship and education. Impactful edupreneurs work to solve a myriad of problems in America’s education system. Some build tuition-free private schools, develop tutoring programs and design culturally relevant curriculum. Others work with school leaders and teachers as coaches. In recent years, edupreneurs have begun to look at online learning management systems, mobile applications and other Ed. Tech. mediums to give kids access to a high-quality education.
I have been an educator for almost six years but I am just now beginning to scratch the surface of the problems and possibilities in the education system, especially in urban Atlanta. My journey toward edupreneurship began in 2012 when I became a Teach for America corp member. Three years later, out of frustration and exhaustion, I took an opportunity to teach in Abu Dhabi for one year. The peace and quiet I experienced while in the Middle East gave me the much needed opportunity to think about my professional future in terms of opportunity rather than obligations, passion instead of performance. I spent one year looking within and thinking deeply about how I could participate in meaningful work and support myself financially. After months of research and hours of conversations with expert educators, I completed my business plan and prepared to go back to the United States. Upon my return, I sent my information and proposals to several local schools; four months later, we secured our first contract and began designing a middle school Saturday enrichment program. Here’s what I’ve learned:
You don’t have to be an expert to start. When I began my work as an edupreneur, I quickly learned how much I did not know but I didn’t let ignorance stop me from going after professional freedom. Recently, I scheduled a conference call with a former principal. I drilled her with carefully crafted and specific questions for nearly an hour. At the end of our conversation, she had provided me with a dozen books and articles to read and agreed to make our talks a regular appointment. You (and I) know much less than we thought but we have the chance to ensure our students learn much more than they ever believed. All we have to do is start and keep going.
You will make a much bigger impact with a team. My talents and skills are very specialized. I enjoy strategic planning, project management and leadership among other administrative responsibilities. I do not enjoy collecting data, direct instruction or crafting lessons. I intentionally searched for teammates who were passionate about the things I am not. Together, we do what we must and what we love. A high-functioning and happy team will enable you to problem-solve and innovate at a much faster rate.
You must be willing to work harder than you ever have. I am no longer a traditional employee but I am never “off” from work. My weekdays belong to gifted students, my Saturdays are owned by scholars who need additional support. My Sundays are blanketed with goal-oriented charts and graphs. I spent my weekends “calendarizing” the week to come. I do not (nor will I ever) subscribe to the “no sleep” way of life but I have been challenged to perform at levels that I never knew possible.
You must remain flexible and patient. It may take some time to identify your true professional niche. There are so many ways you can find professional freedom and meaning as an edupreneur. Take some time to explore the possibilities before you lock yourself into one way of educating kids.
So, what should you do if you want to be an edupreneur?
- Think deeply about what problem you want to solve. Do other people notice this problem? How will you solve the problem? What will it take (cost) to solve this problem?
- Get to know your customer. Any product or service that you offer as an edupreneur will ultimately impact kids but you will likely never pitch your idea directly to kids. Research your target. Who will you need to convince that you or your ideas are worth the investment (e.g. district officials, school leaders, teachers, parents students or other stakeholders)?
- Design with the customer in mind. You aren’t offering a product or service for yourself. You are creating a solution to someone else’s problem even if your personal experience was the catalyst.
- Test your product/service as soon as you can. Finish your prototypical program or product and get it in the hands of a representative of your target demographic. The quicker you receive actionable feedback, the quicker you’ll arrive with the best possible solution for kids.
Educators are leaving the profession for countless reasons. If you are leaning toward exiting the classroom or school environment, consider edupreneurship as a path to professional freedom and meaningful impact.